Top 5 Best iOS 5 Features

There’s so much packed into Apple‘s iOS 5, it can be kind of hard to pinpoint the best features in it. The company singled out a number of things at the media event, but I think there are a few aspects of this update that stand out above the rest for impacting iOS users’ lifestyles on a daily basis. Here are my five picks for which ones they are:

Notifications: There’s only one word that can sum up the collective exhale from all iOS users about this feature: Finally! No more putting up with screen violating, app-intruding alerts to interrupt those mobile activities, with no way of getting them back. Users now have a more elegant notification system with a swipe down list and lockscreen view. I’ll let the fanboys and haters argue over who conceived this first — Android or the iOS jailbreakers. It’s here now, it’s real and it’s fabulous.

iCloud, PC-Free/Wireless Sync:Keeping data consistent across all my gear has been an annoyance for years. I might be getting ahead of myself by throwing this in before Apple finetunes this, but the sheer enormity of the promise is massive. The thought of pics, docs, appointments, and of course music — saved and made available wirelessly across all my devices, everywhere that I am — well, it’s enough to make this gadget girl cry tears of happiness. It’s one of those things you may not fully realize you need until someone jumps in and says, “I know it has been a struggle — here, this will help.” Not that this first version is pure awesomeness yet (there are still plenty of bugs and kinks to work out, at least for iCloud), but I have to hand it to Cupertino for identifying such a universal problem and attacking it.

Fast Access to Camera: I have an adorable photo of my cat getting stuck in a woolen blanket. Or at least, I have a pic of her rump, trotting away after said bout of cuteness, because my phone cam wasn’t ready when I needed it. What if this was the moment my hubby blew out the candles on his birthday cake? Or a child’s first steps? We could have the most powerful mobile device cameras with the best lenses available, but it wouldn’t mean a thing if we can’t get the shot. So big ups to providing access to that new 8MP camera directly from the lock screen, and from within 3 seconds to boot.

iMessage: In a world where carriers are increasingly killing off lower-tier, budget-friendly texting packages (yeah, I’m looking at you AT&T and Verizon), this comes at a very welcome time. There are huge numbers of iOS users out there — spanning iPad and iPod Touch users, as well as iPhoners — so being able to message them like this and for the bargain basement price of free will be no joke, especially for people who have a lot of iOS users among their friends and family. (Even better would be if Apple extends this to include OS X users as well, like they did for FaceTime, or via iChat. Fingers crossed.)

Text Expansion: I’ve never owned a hardware QWERTY (though I’ve tested/reviewed plenty), but I’ve been fascinated with them for years. Why? Because I stink at typing on small capacitive screens. Enter the new text expansion feature in iOS 5. I think I can retire my keyboard envy now, thanks to this native feature. Users can define shortcuts for commonly used words and phrases, making text input better and more efficient. Tough break, third-party Text Expander app. As a $5 item in the App Store that only works in other third-party apps that support it, I think your days might be numbered.

Of course, there’s also Siri. I didn’t put it up top because — well, it’s iPhone 4S only (and Apple itself didn’t even put it into its own online list of iOS 5 features) — but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to this incredible-looking, voice-activated assistant. Truth is, I could go on for another thousand words about Siri alone, but I’ll cut to the chase here: For me, it boils down to a simple case of wish fulfillment from my childhood. I used to watch Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation say stuff like, “Computer, how far is the next star system?” or some such. This is like having my own Enterprise computer in my hands. Now if only Siri could replicate me a cup of tea, I’d be golden.

Another honorable mention goes to accessibility features. Apple has aggressively delved into making its software more useful for the hearing or sight impaired, and I think that ought to be commended — especially considering how easy it is to overlook these users. Both of my parents are hearing-impaired, and it’s truly mind-boggling how underserved they are in the mobile technology market.

None of this means, however, that the OS is perfect. And so to counterbalance this article, there’s another one on the way about the top 5 worst things about iOS 5, so stay tuned for that.

But for now, tell us what your picks are for top 5 features in iOS. Do they match mine? Weigh in below, and share which ones you love the best so far.